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Insider Threat Risk Assessment: 5 Key Steps Every Organization Should Take


Insider threats are expensive. The total average annual cost of an insider threat rose to $15.4 million according to the 2022 Cost Of Insider Threats Global Report by the Ponemon Institute  [PDF]. Companies spend a fortune on lawsuits, fines for non-compliance with security requirements, and mitigating the consequences of cybersecurity incidents — not to mention the negative impact of such incidents on an organization’s reputation.

To minimize insider threats, you should implement an insider risk management (IRM) strategy that essentially starts with an insider threat risk assessment. Let’s explore in detail why an insider threat and risk assessment should become the backbone of your cybersecurity posture and what steps you should take to carry it out.

What is insider threat risk assessment? 

An insider threat risk assessment is a practice that helps you evaluate your data’s current level of protection against malicious and negligent insiders, determine potential risks to your organization, and assess the likelihood and potential harm of each risk.

The NIST Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments [PDF] identifies the purpose of a risk assessment as the following:

The purpose of the risk assessment by NIST

Performing an insider threat analysis and risk assessment is an essential step for developing an effective insider threat program. An insider threat risk assessment is usually performed as part of a general cybersecurity risk assessment, so in this article, we’ll use these terms interchangeably.

Why assess the risk of insider threats?

Organizations that work with sensitive data should assess insider threat risks and other cybersecurity risks regularly for the following reasons:

The main benefits of an insider threat risk assessment

Evaluate the organization’s cybersecurity posture. Companies conduct risk assessments as an essential part of a risk management strategy when they need to evaluate their current state of cybersecurity. A thorough insider risk assessment highlights possible flaws in your workflow and cybersecurity gaps that may allow malicious insiders to compromise your corporate systems. 

Detect potential insider threats. An insider threat-based risk assessment helps you detect users employing insecure and risky practices that may lead to security incidents. It may also detect suspicious and malicious insider activity.

Enhance the organization’s data and asset security. Once you know which threats are the most dangerous to your organization, you can determine the most relevant measures and tools to secure your weak spots and develop a risk mitigation plan accordingly.

Apply for cybersecurity insurance. By performing an insider threat risk assessment, you can understand what areas of security need improvement before applying for cybersecurity insurance. Companies that provide cybersecurity insurance typically require some form of risk assessment [PDF] before defining the terms of your coverage.

Comply with laws, regulations, and security standards. A general security and insider risk assessment is a great way to ensure information security within an organization. This practice is highly recommended and even mandatory with some organizations like NIST and ISO and according to laws and standards such as HIPAA and PCI DSS.

Now that we’ve discussed the advantages of insider threat assessment, let’s identify the main steps for carrying one out.

Key steps of an insider threat risk assessment

There are different ways to assess cybersecurity risks depending on the type of organization, size, line of business, and relevant cybersecurity requirements. However, there are common steps every organization can take when performing an in-depth risk assessment.

5 key steps of an insider threat risk assessment

1. Identify critical assets in your organization

Start your risk assessment by identifying all of your organization’s valuable assets that could be compromised by insiders.

Focus your attention on:

  • Access to servers and admin panels of cloud services
  • Customers’ sensitive information (credit card data, addresses, phone numbers, health records, etc.)
  • Employees’ personally identifiable information
  • Crucial systems and services (corporate networks, admin panels, key applications used within an organization)
  • Data about partners and subcontractors (documents, agreements, contact information)
  • Trade secrets and other confidential information

Once you identify your critical assets, you should then categorize and classify them according to their level of criticality.

See how Ekran System can help you minimize insider threats

2. Define possible insider threats

An insider threat is posed by legitimate users within your network who may:

  • Disclose your sensitive data
  • Share access to corporate systems with unauthorized people
  • Delete, change, or misuse data
  • Upload malware to your corporate system

Take note that not all insider threats arise from malicious activity or compromised accounts. According to the 2022 Cost of Insider Threats Global Report  [PDF] by the Ponemon Institute, the majority of insiders cause harm to their organizations because of negligence – using weak passwords, clicking on suspicious links, providing credentials in response to phishing emails, etc.

Share of threat actors in insider-related incidents

To identify potential insider threats, explore various scenarios of compromising your corporate network by answering the following questions:

  • Which of your employees have elevated access rights and what do they use these rights for?
  • How often do your employees access corporate systems and sensitive data and for what purposes?
  • How do employees store and handle their passwords?
  • Are your employees aware of the latest cybersecurity practices?
  • How do employees share their passwords (if they use shared accounts)?
  • Does the system allow your employees to log in from unusual locations or devices?
  • Can your employees copy data to unknown USB devices?

3. Prioritize risks

To prioritize risks, you need to assess those risks and determine which threaten your organization the most and could result in large losses for your company. You can use a risk matrix to define the level of each risk.

To assess insider threat risks, analyze the following four factors:

Key factors to analyze when assessing insider threat risks

Think about what current security measures protect your systems from a given scenario. What are the chances of an actual data breach or other incident happening in case a potential threat arises? Define the most dangerous and most likely threats and secure your organization against them first.

4. Create a risk assessment report

By wrapping the results of your insider threat risk assessment into a report, you simplify decision-making at further stages of your risk management strategy. You can also use the risk assessment report to share information with your employees to raise awareness of risk-related actions.

An insider threat risk assessment report should provide a comprehensive overview of the assessment process, identified risks, their priority, and possible consequences. 

In addition, you can complement your report with effective cybersecurity practices to reduce those risks:

  • Enhancing authorization and authentication mechanisms
  • Performing regular data backups
  • Deploying data loss prevention tools
  • Implementing threat detection and response mechanisms
  • Updating cybersecurity policies and guidelines
  • Employing user activity monitoring solutions

5. Make assessing insider risks a regular practice

Organizations tend to keep up with the times and adopt new software, hardware, policies, expand their departments, etc. If your IT infrastructure changes, new security gaps may appear.

That’s why it’s crucial to conduct a risk assessment each time you make serious changes to your workflow. Consider creating a template or checklist for regular risk assessments to make this process simple and efficient.

Mitigate insider risks with Ekran System

Ekran System is a full-cycle insider risk management platform that allows you to deter, detect, and disrupt security incidents caused by insiders.

Ekran System's capabilities for managing insider risks

Ekran System can help you perform an insider threat risk assessment and manage insider risks with the help of the following functionality:

  • User activity monitoring (UAM) enables you to check whether your employees and contractors use insecure practices that can result in security incidents. With Ekran System, you can view both live or recorded user sessions coupled with such metadata as opened applications, visited websites, typed keystrokes, and connected USB devices.
  • Privileged access management (PAM) allows you to granularly grant privileges and monitor how users with elevated access rights handle sensitive data. In addition, Ekran System offers robust identity management and 2FA to securely authenticate users and safeguard login credentials.
  • Alerts and incident response functionality lets you instantly detect abnormal activity and react to it in real time by blocking suspicious sessions or processes.
  • Auditing and reporting capabilities provide you with valuable insights into user activity, thus, helping you perform a comprehensive analysis of your current cybersecurity state. You can set custom rules to generate ad hoc and scheduled reports that display specific data per your requirements. 


As the basis for an insider threat management program, an insider risk assessment allows you to detect vulnerabilities in your organization’s cybersecurity and evaluate the consequences of potential security incidents. You can use this information to develop relevant cybersecurity improvements for preventing, detecting, and responding to insider threats.

Ekran System is a comprehensive solution to help you both conduct insider risk assessments and implement effective insider risk management strategies.

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